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Rethinking Grade Transfer Shock: Examining Its Importance In The Community College Transfer Process (Article published In The Journal Of Applied Research In The Community College Vol. 14, No. 1, Fall 2006, p. 19-33). Presented By: Ron Pennington, Director Of Institutional Research

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Presented By: Ron Pennington, Director Of Institutional Research (rpennington@stchas)

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Rethinking Grade Transfer Shock: Examining Its Importance In The Community College Transfer Process (Article published In The Journal Of Applied Research In The Community College Vol. 14, No. 1, Fall 2006, p. 19-33).

Presented By:

Ron Pennington, Director Of Institutional Research


6th Annual Conference Of The Institute For The Study Of Transfer Students

January 23-25, 2008

Dallas, Texas


  • What is Grade Transfer Shock (GTS)?A decrease in a student’s grade point average during their first semester at a four-year institution when compared to their cumulative GPA at a community college (CC).

CC TransferExperience

Level of GTSExperienced

Eventual 4-yearSuccess

Why Is GTS A Problem?

  • Native student studies: CC transfers have lower graduation rates even with SES and academic ability controls

  • GTS could be an intervening variable adversely affecting four-year student success

  • Academic integration first/social integration later

  • Native four-year students will not experience GTS

Research Shows GTS Is A Persistent Problem

  • Review of the literature suggests students lose about1/3 of a grade pointe.g. 3.0 down to 2.70 2.5 down to 2.20

  • Studies consistent over timeHills (1965)Richardson & Doucette (1980)Diaz (1992)Carlan & Byxbe (2000)

Why Might CC Transfers Experience GTS?

  • Poor academic prep at the CC level (Dougherty, 2000)

    • Within an institution – academic in-process measures

    • Between institutions

  • Poor transfer prep (Nolan & Hall, 1978; Holahan & Kelley, 1978; Land, 1996; Laanan, 1996; Lee & Hoey, 1996; Rhine, 2000, Debard, 1996)

  • Poor cognitive maps (Lovitts, 2001)

  • Attribution Theory(Heidner, 1958; Weiner, 1974)

Potential Interventions To Reduce GTS

  • Change the emphasis from traditional transfer counseling strategies like:

    • Where to transfer

    • Meeting the prerequisites of four-year schoolsTo:

  • More proactive strategies designed to reduce GTS

    • Workshops on the new four-year academic culture

    • Student mentoring programs at the four-year school(Laanen, 1996; Rhine et al., 2000)

Research Questions

  • Is GTS related to four-year student success?

  • Does GTS occur when student demographic and institutional process variables are controlled?

  • Do traditional two-year and four-year transfer counseling practices reduce GTS levels?


Measuring GTS Is Problematical

  • Gain score:

    • (4-year term GPA) – (2-year cumulative GPA)

  • Problem: The two GPA measures are different

    • Based on two schools’ grading system

    • 4-year term GPA is less reliable than the CC cumulative GPA

      • Less course taking

      • Shorter time period

    • Regression to a lower 4-year GPA scale






Two Basic Solutions

  • Using a lower level of measurement:

    • A dichotomous variable

    • An ordinal variable

  • Regress the CC cumulative GPA on the 4-year term GPA

Negative Grade Change (GTS)

Positive Grade Change

No Grade Change




Data Collection Methods

  • Telephone survey of MO community college transfer students – Summer 1999

  • Student data came from community colleges

    • Demographic

    • Academic in-process measures

  • Student outcome data (MO EMSAS file)

Study’s Sample

  • Initial list of 7,055 CC transfer students completed 24 credit hours from 1995 to 1998

  • 2,656 were surveyed using several call back attempts (response rate = 38%)

    • Many outdated telephone numbers

  • Additional criteria used to eliminate cases

    • Senior transfers (>96 credits)

    • Pooling of 5 urban community colleges

    • First-time transfers prior to fall 1998 semester

  • Usable cases = 686


Is GTS Related To Four-Year Student Success?

  • Modest relationship between GTS and CC transfer success at four-year schools.

  • Grade measure of GTS better predictor of transfer success than survey measure

  • Nearly three times as many students actually experienced GTS than reported it in the survey

Regression Findings

  • Does GTS occur when student demographic and institutional process variables are controlled?

  • Do transfer two-year and four-year traditional counseling practices reduce GTS levels?

- CC Lib Arts Maj (0=N,1=Y)

- CC Bus Maj (0=N, 1=Y)

+ CC Degree (0=N, 1=Y)

+ CC Financial Aid (0=N, 1=Y)

+ Cumulative CC Credits

- Dev course work


Independent Variables

- 4-Year ACT

CC Academic Challenge



± CC3



+ 4-Year First-Term Credits

Transfer Experience

+ CC Prep (0=not SAT, 1=SAT)

+ CC Acad Adv (0=no, 1=yes)

+ CC Fac Adv (0=no, 1=yes)

+ CC Couns (0=no, 1=yes)

+ Cred Transfer Success (0=no, 1=yes)

+ 4-year Couns (0=no, 1=yes)

+ Age

- Gender (0=F, 1=M)

- African American (0=AA,1=Oth)

+ Previous College (0=N, 1=Y)

Summary Of Key Regression Findings

  • CC GPA was the strongest predictor variable of 4-year GPA by 4 to 1

  • 4-year and 2-year academic challenge variables were the second strongest set of predictors

  • Other significant variables were:

    • Taking developmental CC coursework (indicator of academic readiness?)

    • Age (indicator of maturation?)

    • CC financial aid (indicator of financial dependency at the CC?)

    • 4-year credits (indicator of clearer transfer goals)

    • Controls on demographic and institutional process variables actually enhanced GTS

    • Traditional counseling variables were not significant individually or as a set

Regression Findings: Results

Implications And Discussion

  • GTS can be measured as a

    • CC GPA  4-year regression studyOr

    • As a dummy variable in a regression study

  • Regression study question

    • Will the relationship between GTS and 4-year outcome success hold up under various controls?

    • This study shows that the GTS variables should be split at -.25 to -.30 if coded as a dummy variable

  • Other predictor variables should be examined

    • More academic process variables at the CC level

      • Like this study’s CC developmental coursework, CC financial aid, and 4-year credit variables

      • Other examples: school attendance, course scheduling (Karl Boughhan)

      • Student engagement

    • Inter-institutional variables like the 4-ACT and set of CC variables

      • Will be needed for institutional accountability assessments

      • Hierarchical linear modeling could be used to “level out the playing field”

  • Need to test if new transfer counseling programs should be adopted

    • Specific program interventions

      • Better financial aid assistance and information

      • Counseling program (two or four-year) targeted to increase students’ Cognitive maps (campus visits, student mentoring, etc.)

    • More systemic strategies and explanations

      • Attributional Theory vs.

      • Academic and Social Integration models

  • What is Attributional Theory?

    • A psychological theory – instead of a sociological theory

    • An achievement-motivational theory that predicts a person's future motivation to act based on causative explanations for why certain outcomes have occurred in the past

    • Concepts include:

      • Locus of control

      • Controllability

      • Event stability

  • Many have argued that intervention programs based on attribution theory could improve the academic success of CC transfers (Finley & Cooper, 1983; Pascarella, Edison, Hagedorn, Nora, & Terenzini, 1996; Perry, Hector, Menec, & Weinberg, 1993; St. Clair, 1993; Valla, 1989)

  • But all future program interventions to improve GTS need to be evaluated

    • Need a program logic for how the intervention is suppose to work

    • Need to implement an experimental design to see if it does work

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